October, 1998 - The Indian Govt. has clearly defined the list of items, including the size, which can be imported duty free by travellers as part of baggage. This has put an end to the discretionary powers enjoyed by customs officials at airport. The existing definition was generally vague and defined personal effects to mean, "such as clothings and other articles, new or used, which a tourist may personally and reasonably require taking into account of circumstances for his visit but excluding all merchandise imported for commercial purpose," which gave the customs officials certain amount of leeway in clearances.
The list of items specified includes:
According to revenue department officials, a similar definition existed under the Tourist Baggage Rules. These rules were replaced by Baggage Rules in 1994. The said rules did not specify the list of items, but permitted customs officials to determine `personal effects' subject to discretion. This led to non-standardisation of items permitted to be imported which revenue department officials suspect led to revenue leakage.
For instance, if a camcorder was disallowed to be brought in as part of baggage a 1.2 per cent duty, which amounts to Rs 12,000 would be payable on it. So also in the case of other items.
Simultaneously, in order to reduce harassment to travellers, the department has ruled that customs officials would not be required to establish whether the item is new or used, so long as the item imported is still not in its original package, which can be immediately disposed.
The definition of personal effects under the old Tourist Baggage rules included 14 items. Laptops have now been included by the revenue department in the new list. This inclusion is based on the commitments made by the revenue department to the Estimates Committee of the 10th Lok Sabha, demanding a review of the Baggage Rules in favour of importing notebooks.